According to the CIPC in South Africa, copyright is an exclusive right granted by law for a limited period to an author, designer, etc. for his/her original work. Unlike other forms of intellectual property, copyright does not need to be registered, except for cinematograph films where registration is possible although not mandatory.
What type of content enjoys copyright protection? The Copyright Act 78 of 1978 protects certain classes or categories of works. For a work to be eligible for copyright protection, it must be original and be reduced to material form. The following works are eligible for copyright in South Africa (in the Republic).
- Literary works e.g. books and written composition novels.
- Musical works e.g. songs.
- Artistic works e.g. paintings and drawings.
- Cinematograph films e.g. programme-carrying signal that has been transmitted by satellite.
- Sound recordings.
- Broadcasts e.g. broadcasting of films or music.
- Programme-carrying signals e.g. signals embodying a programme.
- Published editions e.g. first print by whatever process.
- Computer programs.
As can be seen, matter which can be protected by a patent, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem, is not the same as matter which is subject of copyright.
There is however a degree of overlap between trade marks and copyright to the extent that the artwork or literary work which is the trade mark is also protected by copyright. Copyright, however, is obtained automatically by its creation and under international treaties is international to a large extent so that a copyright eligible work created in South Africa and made available by or on behalf of the creator is protected in all treaty member countries without the need for registration and no costs. It is however possible to obtain registration in certain countries like the USA so as to ease enforcement of copyright, but it is not mandatory.
The best news about copyright is how long it is valid for, and in South Africa currently the duration of copyright is the life of the original creator and fifty years from the end of the year in which the author dies. In other countries, like the USA, copyright in certain works can extend for much longer, for example, according to the US Copyright Office, works made for hire and anonymous and pseudonymous works, the duration of copyright is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter (unless the author’s identity is later revealed in Copyright Office records, in which case the term becomes the author’s life plus 70 years).